If you like what you see in the stands at the farmers market, now you can get up close and personal with that head of lettuce’s first home: the farm.
The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is sponsoring a sustainable farm tour in the Midlands this spring. The tour features stops at 11 local fields across two days, with participants trekking through Blythewood, Hopkins, Leesville, Columbia, Irmo, Lugoff and Elgin.
The self-guided tour will run April 6 and 7. Admission is $25 per vehicle, with no limitations on the number of passengers. Tickets, which are good for both days, are available on the CFSA’s website.
CFSA, comprising 2,700 members in both North and South Carolina, has hosted other farm tours throughout its 34-year history. The group’s Piedmont Farm Tour of the triangle region of North Carolina has been around for 18 years, and a tour of farms in South Carolina’s Upstate is in its sixth year.
But Fred Broadwell, CFSA’s program manager, said this is the first Midlands tour because there were enough farms and “interest among consumers, foodies and the general public to support it.”
“Each region develops at its own pace,” Broadwell said. “We applaud the efforts as they emerge.”
Farms on the tour were chosen because they are making efforts to be more ecologically sound, Broadwell said. Being certified organic and reducing pesticides are among the initiatives that make a farm sustainable.
“Sustainability is a journey, not a destination,” he said.
North Main Community Garden (NOMA), a garden owned and operated by the City of Columbia, is one of the tour stops. The garden was founded in March 2011 as part of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign.
Of the 21 gardens owned by the city, NOMA is the largest with 50 plots on the property.
It costs $20 a year to lease a 5-by-12-foot plot at NOMA. Gardeners are provided with the box, free water and mulch.
Jacqueline Williams, program director for NOMA, works for the city’s parks and recreation department. She said NOMA is sustainable because it stresses practices like composting and crop rotation. She applauds the city’s efforts to make healthy eating a reality for the community.
“The city, including it into our plan and making it an official program, has helped tremendously,” she said. “There’s nothing like getting your local food right here fresh.”
Williams said gardening has become a thing of the past, “a lost art, almost,” in some communities. Because NOMA is technically a garden, not a farm, she was a bit surprised it was included in Midlands tour; nevertheless, she hopes the exposure will help grow partnerships with local businesses and restaurants.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know about local farms and resources.”
City Roots, a Columbia farm, is another stop on the tour. The farm started around summer 2009 and is a little under three acres. It sells produce on site and at local farmers markets, as well as to restaurants like El Burrito, Gourmet Shop, Oak Table, Solstice Kitchen and the Palmetto Club.
City Roots employs four full-time staff members and a handful of interns and volunteers.
“We want to be as much a part of the community and have as little waste as possible,” said Ben Marshall, the field manager at City Roots.
The farm uses practices like cover cropping and drip irrigation to reduce waste. They are in the process of converting to a no-till system for crops and reuse soil from microgreens to feed other plants.
“I don’t think we’ve had to input soil into the greenhouse in six months,” Marshall said.
Microgreens are one of the most popular items for City Roots.
“You can grow them year-round, and they’re high end,” Marshall said.
The University of South Carolina is getting in on the action, too. Its community farm and garden will be yet another stop on the tour.
Malte Weiland, the sustainability coordinator for the Office of Sustainability at the University of South Carolina, plans to get students involved during the tour weekend both on campus and off.
“We will be getting our students out to volunteer here and at other farms,” he said.
The campus is home to five community gardens — up from just one in 2004 — but the garden outside of West Quad, also known as Green Quad, is the featured stop on the tour.
Broadwell hopes the tour becomes an annual event.
“We hope in the future that there will be more farms to tour,” he said. “This is a long-term project for people to get connected to where their food is coming from.”